Tales of a Chinaman, from rags to riches
by Kelvin Liew Peng Chuan
(Tanjong Tokong,Penang, Malaysia)
Phor Phor's family members. In the middle is the Patriach of the family, the late Chee Wor Lok.
This is a tale from my late granny,about her dad. She was the first daughter of Chee Wor Lok, a well known community leader who hailed from Toi San, Canton, China.A story that tells of the heydays when poor Chinaman coming to Namyong with nothing but just the clothes on his back..and later making it big.
He arrived here when he was a mere lad of 10 in the late 19th century. He and many other mainland Chinese migrants braved the high seas in a tongkang hoping to make a fortune here to lessen the burden of his family back in the village in Thoi San.The first thing he did when he arrived in Penang was to severe the 'pig-tail' he kept..the long hair tied back, a sign of slavery to the manchus.He was no more a Manchurian subject,he is a free man!
Knowing not a word of English,he became the first non-Straits born Chinese to enroll in a mission school, St Xavier's Institution. With the brothers' and teachers' constant encouragement, he made it through the education system and was fond of Brother James, one of the brothers in St Xaviers.He became one of the few educated non-Straits born Chinese in Penang.
For a Chinaman to be educated is not a small matter to his community, the closely-knit Cantonese.He became their reference for almost any official matters and latter he was awarded the Justice of Peace JP award.
He started a small bussiness selling plates at Jual Murah the present Chowrasta..so you can guess how old is Chowrasta area!!! and later expanded his bussines. With his educated status,it wasn't difficult for him to secure bussines deals.
He bought himself a bungalow and he got married to a local Penang Nyonya...perhaps way back in 1910..coz my granny was born in 1911. My granny was his first child. He got married to his second wife after my granny's mom passed on.For all i can remember, I've got 8 grandaunts..and perhaps 5 granduncles...I'm quite blur....because i was never close to my grand uncles. Look at the attached picture, looks like everyone's there.
His mother visited him once in a while..all the way from Canton..her tale will come later. A filial child he was, when he received a telegram informing him of his mother's demise in China, he dressed his family members in mourning clothes. Corresponding to the hour of the funeral in China, he stopped all bussines dealings, got his children excused from school and had everyone kneel down in mourning with lit joss sticks in front of his mother's photo.
Though he made it big, he was charitable like many tycoons of his time,notably Aw Boon Par. He made it a point for his children to taste and see the life of a commoner. He frequently brings his children to Pun Nong Keok, a welfare association that takes in single mothers and also Leper's Home to do charity. He also contributed to the Toi San Wooi Koon Toi San Association
, Kun Nyam Miu Kuan Yin Temple..in Pitt Street
and Thin Kong Thong The Jade Emperor Temple at the foot of Penang Hill
and the ever famous Kek Lok Si.
It was said that Kek Lok Si has a life size statue of their benefactors, and among them was that of granny's dad.
Well,that's the tale of a Chinaman coming to Penang, his values in life and his success.Had he given to his reluctance to learn English, nothing would materialize and of course,the name Chee Wor Lok would not appear in the book 'The Prominent People of Penang'..he would just be another Chinaman next door.